Hitler's successors plan to save Germany

The Allies demand Germany's unconditional surrender. But when German negotiators meet with Montgomery, they try to lure the Western powers into breaking their alliance with the Soviet Union - just…

The Allies demand Germany’s unconditional surrender. But when German negotiators meet with Montgomery, they try to lure the Western powers into breaking their alliance with the Soviet Union – just before doomsday.

The Germans did not know where the weather was coming from when the state radio started playing a funeral hymn on the evening of May 1st. Then chants broke the music.


It is 10.25 pm and it is clear that the mantra is very upset: “The announcement came from the Commander’s headquarters that our Commander, Adolf Hitler, has given his life for Germany – he fought until the last moment against Bolshevism.” On Monday, the commander named Admiral Dönitz as his successor. Our new commander will now address the German people”. 


Dönitz hardly needs an introduction. All Germans know him as the submarine commander who has carried out numerous attacks on the Allies.


Long before that, or in 1939, he drove through Berlin in an open cab while the public cheered him on the streets. Since then, the newspapers have hailed him as a hero – and Hitler blindly trusted him.


In 1943, Dönitz was commander of the entire fleet, but now the Grand Admiral has taken on a new role when he speaks into the microphone. “In deep sorrow and reverence, the German people bow down”, begins Dönitz. “The commander saw early on the great danger posed by Bolshevism and dedicated his life to the fight against it”. 


Next, Dönitz announces his plans. “My most important task is to free the German people from the destruction of the Bolsheviks, and it is only to achieve this goal that the struggle continues”, he announces. 


As a staunch Nazi, Dönitz refuses to surrender if the surrender involves the Germans surrendering to the authority of the Red Army. If he could, he would immediately turn his weapons to the east, but Germany also has other enemies to deal with: 


“As long as the Americans and the British prevent us from reaching that goal, we will defend against them.” For that to happen, I need your help! Trust me because your journey is also my journey. Keep laws and regulations in the cities and in the countryside!” asks Dönitz later that evening.

The day after Hitler’s death, Admiral Karl Dönitz became the leader of Germany.

Late mail from Berlin 

Earlier that day: Before the new president could make his speech on the radio, he had to break many alliances and keep SS leader Himmler at a reasonable distance. 


The announcement that Karl Dönitz had been chosen to become the next chancellor reached him only a day and a half earlier – on April 30. But there was not a single word from Berlin that Hitler was dead.


Dönitz first learned of this at the breakfast table on May 1, where he was busy putting together a government. He has spent many hours on the phone to choose a minister.


In his will, Hitler had divided up the positions, but Dönitz knows nothing about that list – and he has no idea that the commander insisted on continuing the war on all fronts.


In his simplicity, Dönitz intended that Hitler wanted him to end the war. Among those who have visited Dönitz to receive a ministerial position is Heinrich Himmler.


Of course, Hitler had fired the SS commander, but nevertheless, Himmler reckons that he still plays an important role: “Without me, Europe cannot save itself”.


Himmler still commands many SS militias and as a result Dönitz poses a danger to him. The most important thing is to keep him away without offending him.


They have dinner together and the SS leader is able to report that the Nazi commander in Hamburg had considered handing the city over to the British without resistance.


This news drives Dönitz crazy – if everyone just does as they see fit, how can he succeed in solving his mission? If the country is to be saved, everyone must stand together. 


Dönitz looks for a plan 

May 2: German forces in Italy surrender and the Allies advance rapidly in Germany. Dönitz just manages to keep power in the northern part of the country together with the occupied countries of Norway, Denmark and parts of the Netherlands. 


Germany’s new government meets at the town hall in Eutin, a small town north of Lübeck. In the red brick building by the square, no one believes in the victory of the army, as Dönitz’s assistant records: “The situation of the army is hopeless”. 


Some of the ministers propose to surrender in order to avoid new air raids on German cities. However, many of the generals insist on fighting to the last man. 


As a sort of compromise, Dönitz decides to continue fighting.


This gives the fleet more time for “Operation Hannibal” – a large-scale rescue operation for soldiers and civilians who have been surrounded along the Baltic Sea after the Red Army’s rapid advance through Latvia, Lithuania and Eastern Russia. 


On land, a kind of tunnel is to be created along the coast east of Lübeck so that the Weichsel’s army can escape from the Soviet troops.


Two weeks ago, the soldiers were defending Berlin along the Oder river, but since then they have been heading northwest to avoid ending up in a Soviet concentration camp. 


General Alfred Jodl from the Military Council in Berlin has finally reached Dönitz. Since 1939, he has been one of Hitler’s main advisors.


Jodl now assures his new commander that the soldiers can keep the tunnels open, but he is immediately contradicted by a voice on the phone.


Assistant commander Dönitz has called his friend in Lübeck, and from there comes dire news: “There is a lot of commotion in the streets. One military vehicle after another drives by. They’re all British!” shouts the second-in-command’s friend into the phone. “Do you want to hear?” 


The man in Lübeck holds the phone up to the window and the monstrous noise of crawler belts and powerful engines can be clearly heard.


Montgomery’s troops have prevented the Red Army from reaching Jutland – and Dönitz has lost his lifeline. The new leader of the state is therefore forced to immediately negotiate with the allies. 


German soldiers are in desperate retreat to avoid the Red Army and want to surrender to the British.

German broadcast reaches Britain

May 3 at 8:00 a.m.: A German delegation is selected to negotiate with British Colonel Montgomery, who is in charge of Allied forces in North-West Germany. 


Berliners surrendered to the Red Army yesterday, today Hamburg will surrender to the British. Bomb attacks on Germany’s second largest city have already claimed 40,000 lives and destroyed more than any other building.


But when the formal surrender is to take place, two German delegations arrive – one to leave the city, the other expecting to be led to Bernard Montgomery. 


Dönitz is not on the committee – he has assessed the matter so that it is beneath his dignity as president to negotiate with a British marshal.


Instead, the commission is chaired by Admiral Hans-Georg Von Friedeburg, who has taken over the German fleet after Dönitz’s promotion.


Friedeburg drives off in a crumpled black Mercedes and wears a long black leather coat with a large cap on his head. 


Dönitz plans for Friedeburg to negotiate with the British, but in such a way that the German retreat in the east can continue: “Try to save as many German soldiers as possible from Bolshevism and their oppression.” The military muster Weischel must reach back into Anglo-Saxon territory”. 


The Germans know that Great Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union have made an agreement in Yalta that Germany should surrender unconditionally to all three of them.


Therefore, Friedeburg does not seek to negotiate peace, but tries to cause division among the Allies by offering that the German forces fighting the Red Army are willing to surrender – to the British alone. 


The cars of the German committee are escorted by British armored cars and the convoy heads for Lüneburg south of Elden, where Montgomery has set up his wagon camp on the Timeloberg ridge. 


Click on an image to see it larger with description

Montgomery steals the show 

May 3, 11:30 a.m., Lüneburg: As the German delegation approaches, Colonel Montgomery draws up a plan to make the most of the encounter with the enemy. This seasoned desert rat pretends to know what the Germans are after.


Friedeburg and his men arrive at Timeloberg and are left there – somewhat bewildered – under a Union Jack flying over several lorries on the dock. 


After a few minutes of tense waiting, the door of one of the carriages opens and a rather slovenly figure is revealed: Hermarskálkur Montgomery.


The Germans give him a military salute, but the Brit takes a long time to stroll down the steps before he greets them with a strange handshake. 


“Who are these men?” the marshal asks his men in the same tone he would use to unwanted traveling salesmen.


Of course he knows the answer to the question. But Montgomery enjoys being on stage. When the German committee members have been introduced to him, he is heard to say: “Never heard of them. What do these men want?” 


Negotiations take place in the open air – in order to emphasize the superiority of the British.


Friedeburg makes a German offer: Weischel’s military concentration of hundreds of thousands of men retreats towards the British line and is ready to surrender to Montgomery. 


“Not at all!”: The Marshal immediately rejects the offer. “This German army is fighting the Russians. They don’t concern me. Go ahead and surrender to the Soviets’. 


Instead, Montgomery counters: “Will all German forces north and west of the center of the area – including the Netherlands, Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark – surrender?”


He then adds that if the Germans refuse this or put forward conditions, he will happily continue the fighting and bombing. 


A few British officers stand nearby and enjoy the spectacle: “The officer is just doing quite well on stage”, whispers one of them as the desperate Germans try to protest. “He’s been preparing for this day all his life”, replies another Brit, struggling to hide a grin. 


Before Montgomery announces that it is time for breakfast, however, he gives the Germans a helping hand: the British will of course welcome any German soldiers who come from the front to surrender.


As for ordinary citizens, he cannot promise anything but insists that he is “not a monster”. Friedeburg must go back to Dönitz to present these advantages.


On the way through British territory, the German is guided by British jeeps with large white flags on the roof of the cars.


A few kilometers north of Hamburg at the village of Quickborn they reach the battle line: “We turned a corner and drove straight into the flash of German tanks. A young officer with only one arm stood by the side of the road directing their movement. When he saw the German vehicles he gave a Nazi salute”, reported one of the Brits and they turned around in a hurry. 


The Germans choose between war and peace 

May 3, Flensburg at noon: While Friedeburg is talking to Montgomery, state president Dönitz is having a meeting with leaders from, among others, Denmark and Norway. Can Germany fight on? 


Flensburg is now the capital of Germany after the fall of Berlin. Dönitz has chosen the city because it is as far as possible from the Allied forces, without having to leave German soil.


The government has settled in the Naval Academy Mürwik, where Dönitz began his career as a naval officer in 1910.


In one of the classrooms, he now meets with German generals and other leaders in the occupied countries of Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands in order to draft the next steps. 


In the Netherlands, the Germans only control a strip of land on the North Sea. The British have isolated them from other German territories.


In order to meet Dönitz, the local police chief, Seyss-Inquart, has to sail past the British. It was only possible with the fast Schnellboot (maximum speed 80 km/h). 


Seyss-Inquart is more than willing to lay down his arms. The units in Schleswig-Holstein have no desire to fight anymore and want to surrender, but the Germans in Norway and Denmark are much more aggressive. 


“In Norway we can meet any attack”, states the top German official Terboven from Norway and enjoys the support of military commanders in the country.


He has 380,000 well equipped soldiers and sees no reason to end the war without a fight. 


General Lindemann, who has arrived from Denmark, agrees. His 230,000 men certainly consist of reluctant Hungarians, poorly trained teenagers and elderly men.


But Lindemann has a more personal reason; He got the position in Denmark because Hitler thought he was too old for military service. The general wants to receive positive comments. 


“In Denmark we can fight to the last man”, promises Lindemann. 


 “But why, your boss?” asks one of Dönitz’s ministers, supported by Werner Best, a high-ranking Danish Nazi official.


Best points out that the 240,000 German refugees in Denmark rely entirely on military aid. 


The fate of the refugees is discussed again and again, which convinces Dönitz of the rightness of surrender for Montgomery: German divisions in the west must surrender so that the fight and retreat in the east can continue. 

Thousands of orphaned children roamed Germany after the war – they were called the wolf children.

Camera perspectives guide peace negotiations

May 4, in Quickborn: British jeeps wait in the front line to face Friedeburg. The small convoy continues to Montgomery’s headquarters. 


In the British camp, everyone is busy. Soldiers rush around to prepare to welcome the Germans. It’s starting to rain and the tents are pitched.


In them, the military commander will receive Friedeburg and his entourage. This historic moment must be preserved on film, but it involves some technical challenges for the cameramen because the screen is only 6×6 m.


Therefore, the cameras have to be set up outside and take pictures through small windows. The light also causes some difficulties. With great difficulty, the filmmakers manage to procure good lamps so that the screen is as well lit as on stage. 


Montgomery watches the preparations with interest and asks where he should stand. He is shown a place in the middle of the tent, but one of his employees strongly objects to this: “The soldier can’t just stand there. He has to receive them!” 


But Montgomery is satisfied with the cameraman’s suggestions: “Let them come to me!” After this he strolls over to the tent where war correspondents are waiting to be briefed on the progress. 


“Did the tea taste good?” Montgomery asks before continuing in his best mood. “The army that will surrender is more than a million people. Not bad, a million people!”


Soon after, he receives word that Friedeburg has arrived with his entourage. “Let them wait,” says Montgomery. 


In May, the German resistance was in ruins, but some army units fought on.

The war ends in Northwest Germany

May 4 at 18.00, Timeloberg: Just like before, Friedeburg and his men have to wait a long time under the British flag to meet Montgomery. It is now raining briskly. 


Montgomery’s meeting with Allied war correspondents lasts half an hour before the military chaplain ends it: “And now we continue to attend to the most important event of the day. We are going to meet the Germans who have arrived. We want to hear what they have to say to us.” 


Colonel Montgomery invites Commander Friedeburg into his office, which is furnished in a carriage on a truck. There he makes sure that the Germans really intend to surrender.


The answer is positive, and after the surrender, they also wish to move negotiations to a higher level – ie with the American general Eisenhower, who is the commander of all allied forces in Western Europe. 


Overjoyed, Montgomery drives the German over to the tent where cameras and microphones stand ready to record this historic moment. 


The military captain sits down at the end of the table, but then the Germans take their seats. They are nervous and one of them intends to calm his nerves by smoking a cigar.


A sharp look from Montgomery, who can’t stand smoking, stops him. “We are gathered here today to …” the Briton begins to say in front of the cameras before reading out the terms. 


German forces in Holland, Denmark and North West Germany will surrender unconditionally the next morning at 8am UK time. If the Germans do not sign on the spot, he threatens to intensify his attacks on their army. 


One after the other, the Germans signed the pledges, and Admiral Friedeburg took the lead. The Germans have obtained the cheapest pen that the British workers found in the camp.


During this, one powerful lamp explodes just above Friedeburg’s head, and the fleet commander falls from his chair.


But in the end, everyone has written their names on the documents. The surrender has now become a reality and Montgomery has captured it all on film. 


German divisions in Denmark, Holland and Northwest Germany will surrender on May 5 at 8.00 am. 


The document with the German signatures will be sent to Eisenhower on Montgomery’s recommendation.


But it never happens because this proud Briton doesn’t have the time to return the proof of his greatest moment in the war to a man in a position he thought he was more qualified to fill. Eisenhower will have to make do with a copy. 



Soviet air raids on Rønne and Nexø cost the lives of 10 Danes and many Germans.

A race to reach the Danish border first

The Red Army never reached Jutland, but the Russians occupied Borgundarhól for almost a year.

Allied Commander-in-Chief Dwight D. Eisenhower sent British units to Lübeck and the Baltic Sea to set up roadblocks in case the Red Army tried to reach the Danish border.

According to the agreement, the Western Powers were supposed to liberate Denmark, but the Allies suspected Stalin of Greece and did not trust him to keep the agreement, as control over the waters of the Baltic Sea would have entailed great benefits for the Soviet Union.

For security reasons, Eisenhower and Montgomery decided that the Allies should insist that Denmark should be included in the agreement on the surrender of the Germans in the Netherlands and North Germany.

The surrender came into effect on May 5, 1945, and on the same day a small British army group landed in Copenhagen. He was meant to meet potential Soviet paratroopers.

However, Stalin retreated to Borgundarholm after a German commander refused to surrender. After two days of air raids, a Soviet force captured Bornholm on 9 May.

It wasn’t until 11 months later that they left the island.

Threats force the Germans into peace agreements

May 6 at 9pm, Raines: After the German surrender the day before, Nazi Germany now consists of Norway, part of the Czech Republic, along with some enclaves along the Baltic Sea and the French coast. 


Friedeburg’s negotiating commission has arrived at General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters in the French city of Reims.


The commander-in-chief of the Allied forces did not think of setting up camp in the open, as Montgomery had done – he has lived comfortably in the town’s technical school.


Before the negotiations begin, the atmosphere reaches a freezing point when a group of American military officers present Friedeburg with a report on the Bergen-Belsen extermination camp. It contains pictures of piles of corpses and thousands of emaciated prisoners. 


Friedeburg is quick to pay. It cannot be that the Americans want to defile his country, officers and people! 


There is no escaping the fact that Germany surrenders, but Friedeburg is doing what he can to drag it out: the day before he claimed that he only had the authority to negotiate and not to sign the surrender itself. .


This statement gave the Germans two additional days, during which Eisenhower, with growing impatience, had to wait for German representatives to arrive from Flensburg.


Now Alfred Jodl from the German Military Council has finally landed, but he also wants to discuss anything other than the surrender that extends to the soldiers on the Eastern Front. 


“It is clear that the Germans are trying to buy time. The goal is to save as many soldiers and civilians as possible from the Eastern Front towards us”, Eisenhower notes bitterly. 


In order not to provoke Stalin, he himself does not take part in the meetings, but his representative keeps him well informed.


Eisenhower wants to bring about the surrender of all Germans as quickly as possible, because Stalin has long suspected the Western Powers of conspiring with the Germans against the Soviet Union. 


Finally, Jodl and Friedeburg come up with an offer that the contract will be signed on May 8, but will come into effect 48 hours later.


This trick will give the Germans more than three more days, but this is where Eisenhower loses patience. 


“Eisenhower demands that we sign today”, Jodl informs the evil-doer Dönitz on the phone.


“If we don’t, the Allied lines will be closed to anyone who tries to surrender to them.” And all contracts will be terminated. I see no other options than this: Chaos or surrender”. 


Within an hour, Jodl is authorized to surrender. He and Friedeburg try one final trick by proposing that fighting cease only 48 hours after the signing of the surrender.


Then they can find excuses afterwards to postpone the signature as long as possible. Eisenhower sees through this strategy and replies that the fighting must stop within 48 hours from midnight, which is now fast approaching.


Otherwise, he will expel all Germans from the front lines of the Western Powers. Friedeburg and Jodl realize that their negotiation techniques are no longer sufficient. 


The Germans agree to lay down arms on May 9 at 0.00. 


May 7, 1945: General Alfred Jodl was flown to Reims to sign the German unconditional surrender.

The submission gets an extra chapter 

May 8, Berlin: The Germans have signed Eisenhower’s surrender, but Stalin refuses to recognize the agreement. He demands a new surrender to be made in Berlin. 


Everything is finally ready for the final surrender of the Germans. Friedeburg lands at Tempelhov Airport with Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, head of the German Military Council and the highest rank of German military commander.


Cars from the Red Army drive the Germans through bombed-out Berlin and past the now-ruined State Chancellery. Only a few scares are running the streets. 


“Terrified, I could now see the destruction in our city”, says Keitel later. The cars stop at the canteen of the military school. The building is one of the few complete buildings in Berlin.


It is almost 12 o’clock, but the ceremony has to be postponed several times, including because the French representative has discovered that no French flag is flying along with the Soviet, American and British ones. 


Female Russian soldiers hastily stitch together a French flag from a blue and white sheet along with a strip of red fabric from the Nazi flag.


In a hurry, the stripes are horizontal – like on the Dutch flag – so the flag needs to be redone.


Finally, the representatives of the allies take their positions in the hall. Eisenhower has sent his deputy because he refuses to play any minor role in a play directed by Stalin. 


Marshal Keitel enters. He carries himself with Prussian haughtiness, his face is like a petrified mask, and he clicks his heels together as he raises his marshal’s baton in salute. 


“Ach, the French are here too”, mutters the German when he sees the French tricolor flag, “that was exactly what was missing”. He finds it humiliating to surrender to a country overrun by the German army in 1940.


“Have you read this document carefully and are you ready to sign it?” is addressed to Keitel and his entourage. Keitel tries to buy more time and wants to send the surrender to all German forces, but it is rejected.


Then he takes the gray leather glove off his right hand, grabs a pen and looks disdainfully at the reporters before writing his name on the documents.


Next it is the commander of the Luftwaffe and finally Admiral Friedeburg signs the surrender as commander of the fleet. This is the third time he has surrendered. 


The clock is now past midnight and shows 1.00 on the 9th of May. The war in Europe is finally and officially over. 



Dönitz’s government continues 

Flensburg in May: Germany is defeated, but Dönitz continues a tiny state in the naval school, where his government holds daily meetings. 


A few days later, Friedeburg is back in Flensburg to inform Dönitz of the surrender in Berlin. 


Life at the naval school, Mürwik, goes on as usual almost as if nothing had happened. Every morning, State President Dönitz is awakened in his cabin on the South American steamer Patria, which has served as a residential ship in Flensburg since 1941.


At the dock, the driver is waiting with the armored Mercedes 770 that Hitler once gave Dönitz. The car drives the president about 500 meters to the navy school, where his ministers are waiting for him in a classroom alone.


The Dönitz government has not been allowed to retire, because it is useful in mediating between the British and other employees of the German government.


But the ministers have a lot to do. For example, they argue about whether the Hitler salute should still be used in the German army and what the new flag of Germany should look like. The swastika still flies over the school. 


The Minister of Food has a special urgent task: He brings snacks for the Minister to the meetings.


The alcohol keeps people refreshed and the congregation begins to believe that perhaps better projects await them in the future. 


The school cleared 


23 May at 9.45, Flensburg: Time is running out for Dönitz and his government. 


British soldiers have taken up positions around the school in Mürwik. All ministers, advisors and military personnel are summoned and arrested.


The main fighters, such as Dönitz, Keitel and Jodl should head to Nuremberg where the war crimes tribunal awaits them. 


In the midst of the chaos, Germany’s former chief negotiator, Friedeburg, asks permission to go to the bathroom. Time passes and the British soldiers become restless.


When they break down the door to the toilet, Friedeburg is lying on the floor with wide eyes. He has taken a cyanide capsule. 


Friedeburg probably committed suicide as he considered it a great humiliation to surrender to the enemy – a fate that every fifth admiral chose anyway.



In Nuremberg, Dönitz states that he acted like an honorable soldier and that he has no regrets. He didn’t have to account for Nazism or the extermination camps, but he was widely praised for “Operation Hannibal” which saved 2 million Germans. 



The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal operated from 1945 to 1949.

Nazis tried at Nuremberg

International law was not enough against Nazi criminals. Therefore, new laws had to be put in place for the trial.


This law was intended to cover those Germans who participated in inciting the nation to war in the thirties and forties of the last century. Their propaganda had promised the nation to expand its territory to increase “living space in the East” for German settlers.


Territories were occupied without a declaration of war by Nazi Germany. The Allies wanted to punish those who attacked neutral countries.


Here the Allies could rely on the Geneva Convention, which contained the rules of the game on how to behave in war. The Germans had, among other things, broken the law by executing prisoners of war.


The Nazis’ merciless treatment of civilians fell under this charge. It concerned, among other things, the forced transport of citizens, mass executions and, in particular, the extermination of Jews and other social groups.

Karl Doenitz

The naval commander was convicted of violations of international peace and war crimes

10 years imprisonment 

Hermann Göring

The air marshal was convicted of war crimes, crimes against peace and humanity and also for planning and carrying out a war of aggression.

Death sentence

Rudolph Hess

Hitler’s deputy was convicted of planning a war of aggression and breach of peace.

Life imprisonment

A series of articles on

The fall of the Nazis

Countdown to Judgment Day

Hitler’s generals flee

Death march of the prisoners

Allied victory celebration at the Elbe

Hitler’s successors plan to save Germany

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